Laos Travel Guide

Last updated on July 31, 2023

Royal Palace temple in Luang Prabang, Laos
The Royal Palace temple in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Snuggly situated between the neighboring countries of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar, is one of Southeast Asia’s most underrated places to visit. A landlocked country often overlooked for the shiny beaches of Thailand, the renown cuisine in Vietnam, or the ancient temples in Cambodia, traveling through Laos remains among my favorite travel experiences in the world.

When you plan a trip to Laos, there are a few things you have to see, and then a number of places you can go that are fully led by your own interests. Laos offers diverse landscapes, from lush jungles and rugged mountains to sprawling plains, and, of course, the enchanting Mekong Delta.

It features a fair number of ancient temples, but really there are likely other reasons you’re planning to backpack through Laos. Perhaps you want to soak in the beauty of the Nam Song River by rock climbing or tubing trip in Vang Vieng, swing from the ziplines at the Gibbon Experience in the Bokeo Nature Reserve, or marvel at the remnants of French colonial architecture in Luang Prabang.

Or maybe you just plan to unwind and be captivated by the unparalleled tranquility of traveling in Laos—it’s the most laid-back and peaceful destination in the region. Reflecting on my own revelatory trip to Laos in 2009, I cannot stress enough the importance of delving deep into this remarkable country, discovering its cultural nuances, witnessing breathtaking sunsets over the Mekong, and simply savoring every moment.

Laos’ Relevant History, Briefly

Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang, Laos
Sunset from the top of Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Laos, a country that was once recognized as one of Southeast Asia’s largest kingdoms for a span of four centuries, bore the name Lan Xang Hom Khao, which translates to the “Kingdom of a Million Elephants Under White Parasols.” It held a vital position as a bustling center for overland trade. However, due to a period of turmoil, the kingdom of Lan Xang fragmented into three distinct entities: Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Champasak.

It was not until the conclusion of the 19th century, during the era of French colonial rule, that these kingdoms reunited to establish the present-day nation of Laos.

Laos takes pride in its extensive historical heritage, which transcends the boundaries of antiquity. Remarkably, it houses the oldest recovered human skull, estimated to be approximately 46,000 years old. Furthermore, evidence of stone artifacts from the Ice Age can still be found, alongside captivating relics from various epochs. Within this tapestry of history lies the intriguing Plain of Jars, an archaeological site of substantial megalithic importance dating back to the Iron Age. Often underestimated by tourists, this is a hidden gem for history enthusiasts and warrants a visit for its exceptional allure.

elephants in Laos
My niece could not believe our luck that our visit to rural Laos netted an encounter with a tiny elephant calf.
One of the iconic slow boats that ferries tourists, locals, and goods up and down the Mekong River.

Essential Information When Visiting Laos

Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls
The stunning turquoise waters at Kuang Si Waterfalls, located just outside of Luang Prabang.

You won’t need a converter when visiting Laos as it uses the 220V/50Hz (North American plug and two-prong round), and when you arrive you can pull a large amount of Lao Kip (LAK) (current exchange rate) from the ATM.

If you’re traveling with a good debit card (I swear by Schwab as the best travel debit card that exists), then you should have no problem pulling out cash regularly as you travel around Laos.

Note that many rural areas do not offer an ATM, nor do they readily accept credit cards in all areas, so you should travel with a fair bit of cash when venturing off the tourist travel.

Can You Drink the Water in Laos?

Water in Southeast Asia, in general, is not safe to drink. That is absolutely the case in Laos—you cannot and should not consume the local water. In fact, you should use bottled water to brush your teeth, and you should also steer clear of fresh vegetables unless at a tourist restaurant (note: not a tourist street cart—don’t eat fresh veggie sandwiches from the street cards).

In rural areas especially, use a SteriPen or LifeStraw if you can’t drink bottled water (here’s why) and if you’re lax about using sterile water to brush your teeth, be more vigilant if you go off the beaten path.

How to Book Accommodation in Laos

When you’re in Laos, use Agoda as your go-to. Agoda offers accommodation around the world, but its coverage and property reviews are best in SEA. Accommodation in Laos cheap enough that even budget backpackers can often afford a budget guesthouse and private room. That said, Laos has hostels! You can find those listed on Agoda or— and Hostelworld covers Laos, too. 

If you’re used to using Airbnb or VRBO, these work a bit differently in  in Southeast Asia—although you can find private properties for rent, many hotels use it as well. I used, and a vacation rental site exclusively on my recent three-month Vietnamese backpacking trip and it worked flawlessly. Read these tips that share exactly how I research and book great hotels and guesthouses along my travels.

Is Laos Vegetarian Friendly?

It’s quite easy for vegetarian travelers to find vegetarian food in Laos. The only consideration is that fish or oyster sauce is used in most dishes. I suggest going with the flow; instead of worrying about the fish sauce, just learn some basic Laotian and ask for your food minus the meat and fish itself. If you do this, you’re completely fine all throughout the country. Rice will always do in a pinch and fresh, gorgeous fruits abound. Try mangosteens if they’re in season when you’re in Laos!

How is the Internet Access in Laos?

Internet access in Laos has significantly improved in recent years, although it still varies depending on the location and infrastructure. In major cities and tourist areas such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse, you’ll find relatively reliable and faster internet connections. Hotels, restaurants, and nearly all cafes in the touristy areas of Laos offer Wi-Fi access. But don’t arrive in Laos expecting Thailand-level internet speeds—even in urban areas, the internet speed is moderate to slow.

In more remote or rural areas, internet access is even slower and a lot less reliable. That means you may struggle to stream videos or hold video calls outside of a toursity hub. (Nomadic Notes has a fantastic collection of wifi-friendly cafes across many cities in Southeast Asia.)

Where can you find internet in Laos? Look for Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, guesthouses, and public places. You should also purchase a local SIM card for your smartphone or use mobile data services—this is so cheap that you should get a plan large enough that you can just hotspot yourself and use your mobile data when needed.

What to Read Before Visiting Laos

 karst rocks surrounding Vang Vieng laos
The karst rocks surrounding Vang Vieng, Laos make this one of the more popular places for rock climbing in Southeast Asia.
pak ou caves near luang Prabang, laos
Buddha statues line the walls of the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang.

Is Laos Safe to visit?

Laos is a pretty safe country in terms of physical violence. However, it’s worth noting that there have been past incidents along Route 13 between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng related to uprisings among the Hmong community. Stay informed about the current situation in the area before planning your journey along that route.

And like in any touristy area in the world, theft and scams are a possibility. Laos is a poor country and flashing valuables isn’t a great idea. Keep valuable items close to your body, use a cross-body bag to prevent snatch-and-grab incidents (happens surprisingly often as motorbikes whizz by), avoid walking alone late at night while intoxicated, and maintain situational awareness when handling your wallet during transactions.

If you plan to explore Laos independently on a motorbike, it is crucial to be aware of Laos’ unfortunate distinction as the world’s most heavily bombed country per capita (here’s why). To stay safe in Laos, stick to established paths and avoid venturing off-road without the a local guide at your side. And also note that traffic accidents are one of the number one causes of fatalities for travelers abroad—learn the road rules in Laos and stay alert when motorbiking long distances, always wear a helmet and read this piece to truly understand travel safety.

The fact is, while physical violence may not be a major concern, it is worth noting that getting sick from food handling practices is the most likely thing that will jeopardize your safety. Research and familiarize yourself with tips for staying healthy while traveling and read How to Shit Around the World if you’ve never traveled in developing countries before. It provides practical advice for maintaining good health in developing countries.

The sickest I’ve ever been in my life happened in Laos, and quality healthcare didn’t exist there—it’s still likely that you’d need to me medevaced to Thailand if something major happens. For that reason alone, you should absolutely have travel insurance like IMG Patriot—it’s a must.

How to Get to and Around Laos

My niece and I shared a tuk-tuk with hundreds of fresh eggs bound for a local market.
Grab a tuk-tuk for short distances that aren’t walkable, or if it’s just too sunny and hot!

Most travelers explore the region overland, with Laos as a subsequent stop on the trip, rarely the place their international flight lands. That means you’ll be crossing overland between the countries, likely using long-distance buses, but that varies greatly depending on the border crossing and the topography. You may find “a bus to a boat to a truck” required for even the most “on-the-path” route to and through Laos.

That said, you can also use a budget airline to fly into Vientiane or Luang Prabang from nearby major cities like Siem Reap, Bangkok, Hanoi, and a few others. tances, you’ll find surprisingly cheap flights via the budget airlines, and this can cut significant time off of your travel days. I reliably find great flight deals on Skyscanner or Expedia.

That’s because transportation in Laos has its unique quirks compared to neighboring countries. The transportation infrastructure in Laos is not as extensive or comfortable as in neighboring countries like Thailand or Vietnam, but it gets the job done. And in recent years there are a growing number of affordable “posh” options.

Let’s talk timelines. Road conditions vary in Laos, and traveling set distances usually takes longer than expected—travel is often sluggish. Most Southeast Asian backpackers rely on buses as the primary mode of transportation within the country, both public and private. Along Route 13—which stretches from Luang Prabang to the Cambodian border via Vientiane and Pakse—there is a consistent flow of buses catering to travelers. Another popular option is taking a two-day boat ride from the Northern Thai border to Luang Prabang, a journey that many consider a quintessential experience in Laos. (This is where you can take the regular boat trip for roughly $35 or splurge on a post boat that serves lunch and stops at various towns along the way for ~$160.)

Regardless of your chosen mode of transportation—be it bus or boat—allow ample time to reach your destination. While there are schedules in place, sometimes buses and boats depart whenever the driver deems it appropriate. While this trend is changing in recent years, as the infrastructure improves, it’s best to be prepared for delays. Carry something to read, pack snacks, bring a deck of cards, and most importantly, maintain patience and embrace the journey itself.

Once you’re within a city or town in Laos, tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis are the most common way to get around—that’s if walking or a bicycle isn’t possible.

How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Laos?

mekong river laos
Sunset along the Mekong River near Luang Prabang.

Budgets always vary greatly depending on individual preferences and travel styles. Theoretically you could travel in Laos for as little as $700 for a month, on a very low budget where you’re traveling slowly.

To cover the range of budget to mid-range travel styles, however, backpacking in Laos ranges between $700 and $1,500 per month. Compared to neighboring Thailand, Laos offers a lower daily budget for backpackers, typically around $26 per day. This is primarily due to its less developed transportation infrastructure, smaller tourism industry, and the overall economy in Laos. So think about it as a range that varies on if it’s a travel day, wander around day, or a day you’re spending on a big activity. With that in mind, your daily expenses as a budget backpacker hits around $20 to $30 most days in Laos.

Let’s talk specifics on where you’re spending your travel budget in Laos. It’s easy to find basic accommodations for around $10 to $15 per night, especially in guesthouses and budget-friendly hostels. A bed in a dorm room though easily run as low as $5, while most regular private rooms without A/C should run well under $20 in any city or town in Laos. Street food and local eateries provide affordable meal options ranging from $2 to $6 per meal. If you eat in a restaurant, or if you splurge on Western coffeeshops, then your food budget ticks up quickly (think $8 or up for a meal). These baseline costs give a good estimate of why and how your daily budget can come in so low when budget traveling in Laos.

Mid-range travelers who prefer slightly more comfortable accommodations, private rooms in guesthouses or small hotels, and a mix of street food and dining at local restaurants can expect to spend approximately $40 to $50 per day. Half of that goes toward accommodation—an air-conditioned private room is upwards of $18, as high as $35 for a nicer place (this is when traveling as a couple or in a group can really help cut costs). Even those who prefer more comfortable accommodations, dining at restaurants (as well as street food), and indulging in some splurges can expect to spend around $55 to $70 per day. (Obviously note that true luxury travel exists in Laos, with rooms over $200 a night).

It’s worth noting that in Laos, there are limited opportunities to spend extravagantly, and your money will stretch further compared to other destinations. If you’re avoiding long overland journeys to save time or for comfort, factor in the cost of flights, which can be relatively expensive for entry and exit from Laos. Although Southeast Asia has several budget airlines, the routes in and out of Vientiane and Luang Prabang are never rock-bottom—use these tips to find cheap flights on your travels.

With all of that said, Laos is a poor country, and tourism dollars are a pivotal part of the Laotian economy. Travelers should support the local economy whenever possible—that means avoiding excessive haggling and choosing locally-run businesses.

Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip—a great policy provides coverage in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen gear, adventure sports riders, and more. I’ve used IMG Global for more than a decade highly recommend it!

What’s the Best Overland Route Through Laos?

A woman returns from shopping at the market in Hongsa, Laos.
Monks greet me and my niece in the early morning hours in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Laos is often visited sandwiched between time traveling to other countries, thus your route will entirely depend on your entry point. As a broad generalization, you route through Laos could look something like one of these options, depending how where and how you enter.

Northern Thailand

Enter Laos from Thailand in the far north, through the Chiang Khong/Huay Xai border crossing and either head north by bus to the hill tribe and trekking region of Luang Namtha, or take the two-day slow boat to Luang Prabang. From Luang Prabang bus to Vang Vieng and onward to Vientiane—then you can either leave back into Thailand, or head south to the 4,000 islands so you can see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and easily (ish) exit Laos into Cambodia or southern Thailand. You could also fly onward to Cambodia or Vietnam.

grilled fish laos
Many of your travels in Laos will involve rivers and water crossings, which means there’s a lot of fish on offer.

Central Thailand or Vientiane

Enter Laos from Thailand at the Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge and find yourself in Vientiane. From there, you’ll likely have northern Laos in your sights. It’s dead simple to bus to Vang Vieng and onward to Luang Prabang.

From there you have options: a two-day boat ride up the Mekong River to hiking or Northern Thailand, an eight-hour bus ride to trek from Luang Namtha, an off-the-path adventure with a bus ride to Muang Ngoi and pretty Nong Khiaw, or a winding bus ride to Phonsavan to visit the mysterious Plain of Jars (where you can easily exit Laos into Vietnam).

Southern Thailand or Cambodia

Enter southern Laos via a bus from Cambodia or Thailand (both have border crossings). Visit the Champasak Cultural Landscape, a Laos UNESCO site, explore the 4,000 Islands and say hi to the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, and then prepare for long travel days as you bus into northern Laos. You can easily make it to Vientiane in a couple of days by bus, and then use the recommendations above to explore Northern Laos. 

weaving class laos
A woman teaches me how to weave silk during a weaving class near Luang Prabang.
laos hotpot soup street food
A hot and tasty meal is easy with all of these incredible, fresh fixings.

Northern Vietnam

Enter Laos from the east by bus on a pretty rough (but pretty) northern overland route where you’re likely leaving Hanoi or Ninh Bình in Vietnam and heading to Sam Neua in Laos, or you’re leaving Hue, Vietnam bound for Phonsavan. From either of these spots, it’s easy to get to Luang Prabang and pick up the above recommendations.

Southeast Asia

Fly to Laos from pretty much anywhere else in the region into/out of Vientiane or Luang Prabang—flights won’t run every day between every nearby capital, but there are flights to/from Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), Cambodia (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh), Thailand (Bangkok and Chiang Mai), and even further afield (like Malaysia, etc.) during certain times of year.

Flights in and out of Laos are often way more expensive than others in the region, so be sure you can swing the cost in your travel budget if you hope to skip the long bus rides. I recommend checking flight prices right now for a rough idea of if and how this fits your travel budget.

Best Foods to Try in Laos

luang prabang meal
An evening hot pot meal stays warm at our table in Laos.
night market food luang prabang
Night markets offer a variety of tasty dishes to enjoy.

The national dish of Laos is larb (also known as laap) which is marinated meat or fish prepared with herbs and greens, and can be quite spicy. Some dishes will have a similar profile to those found in Thailand, like spicy green papaya salad (known as tam mak hoong) and kai yang (grilled chicken). Most dishes will have elements of galangal, lemongrass, and padaek (fish sauce) and are served with sticky rice, which is eaten by hand.

Similar to other Southeast Asian countries, Laos has a strong street food culture. Khao jee is a popular street food, and very similar to banh mì in Vietnam—it’s a baguette sandwich prepared with fresh French-style white bread, fresh vegetables, and some sort of meat. Khao piak sen is also quite delicious—it’s a soup similar to Vietnam’s classic pho.

Note that food sanitation standards in Laos are not up to par with neighboring Thailand, so eating fresh vegetables (like those in the sandwiches) carries a risk for waterborne illnesses. Watch closely how the locals prepare your food (is it being washed in fresh water, or a communal water bucket, is it out of the sun and changed frequently? Many food issues in Laos (and the rest of Southeast Asia) can be solved when you heed the first rule of street food: Eat where locals eat./

How to Travel Responsibly

Like other countries in Southeast Asia, Laos has some ethical quandaries facing responsible travelers. I recommend you completely skip elephant experiences in Laos (instead save that for Thailand, where there are some great options). Laos is also among the more conservative countries in the region, so women should wear tops that cover their shoulders and bottoms to the knees. And the poverty here is very real—every dollar you spend locally and intentionally goes far in helping locals even something simple like medical treatment, which is scarce. Lastly, the Lao people are quiet and have social rules about excessive public outburst—bargain respectfully.  

You should also limit your use of single-use plastic bottles—Laos’ infrastructure is not strong enough to guarantee it won’t just end up floating in the Mekong River. Bring your own bottle and a SteriPen, if possible, and a refillable water bottle so that you can at least buy huge jugs when you’ll be in one spot for a few days and just refill from it.

Positive actions you can take include spending money with local tourism operators, including some fantastic social enterprises operating in Laos. Read our complete guide to Responsible Travel in Southeast Asia.

Best Things to Do in Laos

My niece and I headed off the path into rural Laos for trekking, homestays, and a chance to experience Laotian hospitality in Hongsa, Laos.

1. Swim in the Kuang Si Waterfalls (Luang Prabang).

Immerse yourself in the refreshing waters at Kuang Si, a park outside of Luang Prabang filled with beautiful waterfalls and turquoise pools of water open for swimming. Take a tuk-tuk, which can be hired for around 180,000–200,000 kip, which is particularly affordable if you find other travelers keen to experience this day trip outside of the city.

2. Eat all the things.

Laos has a culinary history unique to the country and differing than neighboring Vietnam or Thailand. Although the sanitary conditions are less safe, overall, you can still safely eat a ton of amazing dishes. This guide to food in Laos will get you started, and Mark covers even more essential eats here. Indulge in the unique culinary delights of Laos.

3. Find adventure in Vang Vieng.

Almost every backpacker traveling to Laos is on their way to Vang Vieng to tube down the Nam Song River. You can also rock climb nearby, eat pancakes at the mulberry farm, and generally enjoy the area. Tubing is rite of passage for SEA backpackers and it’s a fun way to spend a day, especially now that it’s not the massive party scene it used to be (it used to be culturally insensitive and dangerous, too).

night market luang prabang
Paper umbrellas for sale make the Luang Prabang night market a colorful affair.
Sunset on the mekong
When in Laos, taking in sunset over the Mekong is a must.

4. Sleep in a treehouse and listen for Gibbons in the Bokeo forests. 

The Gibbon Experience is pricey but so worth it—I did the Classic Gibbon Experience and will remember it forever. The project has done phenomenal conservation work in the Nam Kan National Park and is a solid choice for responsible backpackers in Southeast Asia, nature lovers, and adventure lovers alike. As of 2023, prices for the Gibbon Experience run around €175 for the express package, and €290 and up for the Classic and Honeymoon packages.

5. Visit the enigmatic Plain of Jars.

And near Phonsavan, in central Laos, you’ll need to hire a tuk-tuk to see the enigmatic Plain of Jars, but it is well worth the trip. The jars date back to the Iron Age and are scattered throughout the upland valleys of the Xiangkhoang Plateau. Hire a tuk-tuk or join a tour to explore the different jar sites, and expect to pay around $10-15 for a half-day excursion.

tourist shakes in laung prabang
Street vendors offer a range of delicious shakes and coffees in Luang Prabang.
laos tasting menu food
My niece and I splurged on a fancy tasting menu one night to try all the different dishes.

6. Relax in the 4,000 Islands (Si Phan Don).

A gorgeous archipelago located in the Mekong Delta, Si Phan Don is a must see. It’s easily one of the best sites in Southern Laos. You can unwind in the serene beauty of the 4,000 Islands. Enjoy laid-back island life, witness breathtaking waterfalls like Khone Phapheng, and spot the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. Access the 4,000 Islands via bus or boat from Pakse, and budget around $20-30 per day for accommodation and meals.

7. Relax and temple-hop in Luang Prabang.

Easily the prettiest city in Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a low-slung charm and beauty you can’t stop enjoying. It’s also an easy spot to stop, take a cooking class, sip beers by the Mekong, and enjoy the Lao lifestyle. Because of the French influence for so many years, the architecture is an intriguing combination of intricate European among the traditional Buddhist temples. You can also find delicious breads and sweets in town (also the French influence), and a general level of infrastructure that makes this a great place to recharge if you’ve been in the region for a while.

The city also has a rich spiritual heritage. Marvel at the exquisite temples, such as Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai, and witness the morning alms-giving ceremony.

And if you’re visiting in October or November. witness a traditional boat racing festival (Boun Suang Heua). You’ll have the opportunity to witness the excitement of traditional longboat races on the Mekong River. Join the festive atmosphere, cheer on the teams, and experience the vibrant culture of Laos.

Luang prabang night market laos
A woman embroiders a square for a quilt she will eventually sell at Luang Prabang’s night market.
buddha at mount phousi
Views along the walk to the top of Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang, Laos.

8. Shopping at local markets.

Backpacking Laos is about more than the big sights, it’s about sinking into the country’s fascinating pace of life. Immerse yourself in the vibrant local markets of Laos for an authentic and enriching cultural experience. From morning markets brimming with fresh produce to bustling night markets filled with handicrafts and local delicacies, these markets offer a glimpse into the country’s diverse traditions and flavors.

Discover the bustling morning market in Luang Prabang, where locals gather to purchase an array of fresh ingredients and exotic fruits. Engage with the friendly vendors, sample local snacks, and soak in the lively atmosphere.

In major towns like Vientiane and Luang Prabang, explore the vibrant night markets that come alive with rows of stalls showcasing traditional textiles, wooden crafts, silver jewelry, and pottery. Bargain for unique treasures while directly supporting local artisans and communities. Shopping at these markets allows you to take home authentic souvenirs while contributing to the preservation of traditional crafts and sustainable livelihoods. Remember to bring cash in small denominations and embrace the art of negotiation, respecting local customs and avoiding restricted items.

9. Boat the Mekong River.

Rivers are an essential part of life in Laos—be sure you enjoy the slice-of-Laos seen from a river boat at least once on your trip. If you’re not up for the two-day boat between Thailand’s border and Luang Prabang, consider something like a day trip to the Pak Ou Caves to still experience the magic of life along the banks of the Mekong. Spending time on the Mekong is an essential thing to do in Laos. It’s the best way to experience the tranquility of rural landscapes, observe traditional riverbank villages, and gain insights into local life.

night market in Luang Prabang
Shopping for souvenirs at the night market in Luang Prabang.
elephant laos
My niece meets an elephant for the first time in Hongsa, Laos.

10. Trek through the lush landscapes of Luang Namtha.

Head to Luang Namtha, located in the north of Laos, for an unforgettable experience. This region is renowned for its ethnic diversity and stunning natural landscapes, making it an ideal destination for an immersive adventure.

Join a guided trekking tour that will take you through lush jungles, cascading waterfalls, and remote hill tribe villages. Immerse yourself in the daily life of ethnic communities such as the Akha, Yao, and Lanten tribes, learning about their customs, traditions, and traditional crafts. Participate in activities like rice planting, handicraft making, and cooking traditional meals.

During the trek, you’ll have the opportunity to stay overnight in a traditional hill tribe village, experiencing the warmth of Lao hospitality firsthand. Engage in cultural exchanges, share meals with your host family, and gain a deeper understanding of the local way of life.

Luang Namtha is accessible by bus or flight from cities like Luang Prabang. Various tour operators in the area offer homestay and trekking packages that range in duration from one to several days. Prices for homestays and trekking tours can vary depending on the length and inclusions, but budget around $30-50 per day. If you’re keen to organize it before arriving, Viator has great options from of treks and homestays lasting from three to five days from Luang Namtha.

hongsa rural laos travel guide
Trekking in Laos is memorable, with views and access to cultures you just won’t encounter if you stick to the larger towns and cities.
laotian man tends to his fire
Scenes from the streets of Luang Prabang.

11. Spend a day in the historic capital city, Vientiane.

Explore the charming capital city of Laos, Vientiane, and discover its blend of French colonial architecture and Buddhist temples. Highlights include the iconic Pha That Luang, Patuxai Monument, and the lively night market along the Mekong River. Vientiane can be reached by air or bus, and budget approximately $30-40 per day for expenses.

12. Discover the cave landscapes of Tham Kong Lo.

Venture into the mesmerizing underground world of Tham Kong Lo, a colossal karst cave in Phu Hin Bun National Park. Hop on a long-tail boat to navigate the cave’s serene river, marvel at its massive chambers, and discover hidden stalagmites and stalactites. Access Tham Kong Lo from the town of Ban Kong Lo, and expect to pay around $15-20 for a boat tour.

13. Explore the picturesque villages of Muang Ngoi and Nong Khiaw.

Embark on a scenic journey to the charming villages of Muang Ngoi and Nong Khiaw, situated along the Nam Ou River in northern Laos. Immerse yourself in the tranquil atmosphere, surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs and lush greenery. Muang Ngoi offers a peaceful escape with limited electricity and motorized vehicles, while Nong Khiaw boasts truly stunning viewpoints and hiking trails.

In Muang Ngoi, take leisurely walks through the village, interact with friendly locals, and spend at least one day on a scenic trek to nearby caves and viewpoints. In Nong Khiaw, hike to the panoramic viewpoint of Pha Daeng, explore the Nam Ou River by kayak or boat, and visit the picturesque Nong Khiaw Bridge.

Bus to Nong Khiaw from Luang Prabang and then easily take a boat onward to Muang Ngo. Accommodation options in both villages range from guesthouses to riverside bungalows, with prices averaging around $10-20 per night.

learning traditional stencils in laos travel guide
My niece learned how to carve traditional stencils that are used to paint the many temples in Laos.
weaving class luang prabang things to do
My niece and I took a silk weaving class that taught us how to die the silk, dry it, then weave it into a placemat.

14. Learn a traditional craft.

Discover the intricate art of weaving, pottery making, or other local crafts, and gain a deeper appreciation for the country’s artistic traditions. When I traveled Laos with my teenage niece, taking classes and learning local crafts was a real highlight for her. But it’s not only one of the best things to do with kids in Laos, it’s also a lot of fun for adults. I loved our weaving workshop where we learned to die silk and then wove our own placemat.

You can organize this throughout Laos, but you’ll have more options in and around Luang Prabang. The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center is located just a short walk from the city center of Luang Prabang, and you can participate in workshops and demonstrations led by skilled artisans. Learn the techniques of traditional Lao weaving, creating vibrant textiles adorned with intricate patterns and motifs. Gain insight into the cultural significance of these crafts and their role in preserving Lao traditions.

In the town of Ban Xieng Lek, located a 30-minute drive from Luang Prabang, you can join pottery workshops and learn the art of shaping clay into beautiful ceramic pieces. Under the guidance of experienced potters, unleash your creativity and create your own unique pottery souvenirs.

To explore bamboo crafts, head to the village of Ban Nong Heo, just 30 minutes from Vientiane. Here, you can learn the art of bamboo weaving, crafting intricate baskets, mats, and other decorative items. Engage with local artisans, observe their meticulous techniques, and try your hand at this ancient craft.

Essential Route Planning Resources:

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IMG Global is the travel insurance I’ve used for well over a decade of traveling solo, and with kids. Here’s why.

🛏️ Find great accommodation.

Agoda is essentially the only hotel booking site that I use in the region as it has the widest and most affordable selection in Southeast Asia. (And for those unfamiliar, it’s part of the family). It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too. Use these pro tips to find the best travel accommodation.

Get Your Guide: Find a collection of the best locally run tours in one spot—you can assess the options, read reviews, and book directly through this trusted platform.

📍Navigate more effectively.
Rome2Rio is super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—it shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more. If you’re booking a rental car, I’ve always found the best deals on

✈️ Book affordable flights.
Expedia and Skyscanner are the first places I look for low-cost flights.

🧳 Smart packing can save your trip.
Shop my favorite travel gear, including all of the packing essentials for traveling, gear to keep you safe in Southeast Asia, my favorite travel books, and more.

📖 Read up on any off-the-path activities.
Travelfish is among my go-to resources for anything in Southeast Asia. It’s updated far more often than print guidebooks and has extensive local insight and a fairly active forum, too. If you head off-the-path, this should be the first place you check for tips, transport advice, etc.

Peruse all of my tips for round the world travel, or learn how to move and live abroad.

Laos Travel Guide: Best Stories from the Blog

I traveled around Laos on multiple trips spanning several months in total during my time backpacking Southeast Asia. These stories featured across my travel blog represent my favorite places in Laos, the best moments of my trip, and more.